The Horsehead Nebula

 NOAO - Horsehead Nebula 02188
The Horsehead Nebula,
Part of the optical nebula IC434 and also known as Barnard 33, was first recorded in 1888 on a photographic plate taken at the Harvard College Observatory. Its coincidental appearance as the profile of a horse’s head and neck has led to its becoming one of the most familiar astronomical objects. It is, in fact, an extremely dense cloud projecting in front of the ionized gas that provides the pink glow so nicely revealed in this picture. We know this not only because the underside of the ‘neck’ is especially dark, but because it actually casts a shadow on the field to its east (below the ‘muzzle’).
The marked change in the density of stars visible on either side indicates that the strip of glowing hydrogen marks the edge of a substantial dark cloud. As a cloud core emerging from its parental cloud, and as an active site of low-mass star formation.

Small red spots in the base of the Horsehead betray the presence of hidden proto-stars, and red streaks near the yellowish nebula surrounding V615 Orionis (bottom left) are Herbig-Haro objects, which are jets of material ejected from protostars. The Horsehead is a fascinating, active, and complex neighborhood.

Location: 05 38 27 -02 29 (1950.0), constellation of Orion.
Distance: about 1600 light-years.

Image Credit:  N.A.Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF


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